Friends and Family
On our 2014 Bella Toscana tour most of our clients kept detailed travel journals to remember all the beautiful experiences and sights that their cameras couldn't adequately capture. I loved seeing them at the breakfast table with a cup of coffee from Simonetta's kitchen or near the pool on their devices typing away and trying to remember every detail from the previous day. Russ and I frequently were asked the names of our friends that served us dinner at the restaurant the night before, the spelling of Tuscan hill towns we had seen or the names of pets at the farm where we had stopped for lunch. After their private cooking class, we all put our heads together the following morning to remember the ingredients and procedures taught to recreate those delicious Tuscan dishes upon returning home. Nothing was left out of those journals. Not a single smell, touch or sight was lost to the observant writers.
Our small group of people came with us to Tuscany for different reasons, but they all had one thing in common...they quickly succumbed to the beauty of the Chianti region and discovered a love for it and it's people.
Russ and I try to show our clients Tuscany the way we have experienced it for many years. We introduce them to our friends, take them to our favorite restaurants and show them incredible views and vistas. We take pride and joy in watching them getting excited and snapping hundreds of pictures of gorgeous views or old doors - which seem to be at the top of everybody's lists. In essence, we enjoy it through their eyes just as much as through our own. Even though we have experienced this many times before we get to see it anew by being allowed to witness their happiness and watch their reactions.
I loved an early encounter on the last tour between one of our clients and an older local lady. We stopped for a quick bite to eat at an Autogrill ,a highway rest stop which serves great food and coffee, after retrieving our clients from the airport in Milano. We all crowded around the panini case to make our choices. A sweet elderly Italian lady in front of us turned to our client and had a whole conversation with her. Even though our client didn't speak Italian they somehow were able to communicate and share a laugh. Whether it was our friends body language and kindness that attracted the older lady, or simply the fact that she sensed her joy of being in Italy, I'm not sure what the motivation was, but it was very sweet to watch.
It's not absolutely necessary to be fluent in Italian when traveling in Tuscany but a few words and a good attitude go a long way with the locals. Italians are proud people ruled by emotions, and once a connection is established it can lead to friendships for life. Russ and I have met many wonderful people in our travels and we take clients along on our tours to visit friends who welcome everyone warmly. Building these personal connections, really getting to know the locals and their traditions, has always been a focus in our travels.
Good friends make great hosts, which became apparent in some interactions between our group and our Tuscan friends. On our day trip to Sienna we had reservations at 'Osteria Da Divo' for dinner. Pino, the owner, and a personal friend of ours, wasn't able to greet us at the restaurant that night because he was home sick. Instead though, he had the entire staff including his mother- in law fuss over us, and he himself kept calling every few minutes to make sure we were treated properly. On my way to the restroom his exasperated mother-in-law summoned me to the phone so that I could assure Pino we were well take care of so he could leave the poor lady in peace to do her work. I reassured him that everything was lovely as always and we had no complaints. It' s those personal touches that make everybody feel special.
On another night at our dear friend Fillipo's 'Ristoro Di Lamole' one of our ladies broke out in silent tears...tears of joy. She was so touched by the warm welcome, the incredible food and the service that she reflected back on her Italian heritage and was overcome by emotion. It was a special moment for her and we felt privileged to share it with her and the rest of our group.
Sometimes it's those little gestures that touch us the most and deepest. And I for one cherish every one of them and feel very blessed that I can share my experiences, my amazing friends and this beautiful country with a handful of people that cross my path in life. We started out with clients who were new to us and a few friends, but by the end of the tour we all felt like family